By Ed Little

A Reading from Acts 11:19-30

19 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, and they spoke the word to no one except Jews. 20 But among them were some men of Cyprus and Cyrene who, on coming to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists also, proclaiming the Lord Jesus. 21 The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord. 22 News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were brought to the Lord. 25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.”

27 At that time prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them named Agabus stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine over all the world, and this took place during the reign of Claudius. 29 The disciples determined that, according to their ability, each would send relief to the brothers and sisters living in Judea; 30 this they did, sending it to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.


At the time, it must have seemed like utter disaster, the end of a movement that proclaimed Jesus as Messiah. After the martyrdom of Stephen, “a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1). Would the movement survive? Or would it fade away, like so many messianic movements in the past (see Acts 5:36-37)? God, it turned out, had other plans.

This was a revolutionary moment. While Samaritans (Acts 8:4-8), an Ethiopian (8:26-40), and even some Romans (10:44-48) had earlier come to faith in Jesus, these conversions were almost accidental. Now the church was intentionally and systematically reaching out to non-Jews. The disaster of Stephen’s stoning was transformed into a mission that would change the world. Acts 1:8 took flesh! You and I are Christians today in large part because those early disciples “spoke to the Hellenists”!

Soon a missionary infrastructure and culture evolved in Antioch. The leaders in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to check out these developments. Barnabas in turn recruited Saul (soon to be called Paul), “and for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians’” — a nickname that stuck. It would not be long before the Antiochian community would dispatch missionaries to Cyprus, Asia, and beyond. What appeared years before to be a movement-ending disaster became, through the Spirit’s power, the trigger for mission beyond anyone’s imagining.

Sometimes God uses disasters in surprising ways. Can you think of times when the Lord has transformed darkness to light, turned disaster into opportunity?

The Rt. Rev. Edward S. Little II was bishop of Northern Indiana for 16 years after serving parishes in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Joaquin. He is the author of three books; most recently: The Heart of a Leader: St. Paul as Mentor, Model, and Encourager (2020).

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The Missionary District of Micronesia
St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Richmond, Va.


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